Hays Town church near completion 50 years later. By Dominick Cross • Photos by Robin May

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

LivingIND1On God’s Acres in Loreauville, St. Joseph Catholic Church has A. Hays Town written all over it.

The huge white columns. The brickwork. The tall windows and cypress shutters. The careful work of the main front doors. That certain tone of white paint.

And it should, because Town was the architect of the church, initially constructed in 1960, that by Christmas, or early next year at the latest, should be completed.

“The idea of one of his buildings being unfinished, you know, there’s something wrong about that,” says the Rev. Buddy Breaux. “When I got here as pastor, most of the parishioners didn’t even know that their church wasn’t finished. You think about it, 50 years go by and most of the parishioners were either not born or kids then. It was their parents and grandparents who built the church.”

When the Rev. Breaux came to Loreauville four years ago, he brought with him not only a priest’s collar but two years as an architectural student at UL Lafayette. He also had a lot of construction work in his background before becoming a priest.

“I think I was the right fit,” says Breaux. “I have to believe that God puts people in certain places for a reason. Whether he called me to be the guy to do this, I don’t know,” he says. “But I know I’m elated about it to see it done. I plan on getting up there with the carpenters and tearing the ceiling down and doing what ever needs to be done.”

Just getting this far has taken three years of “thinking about the possibilities, getting the word out, letting the idea seep into the parishioners’ minds,” the priest adds. And after several meetings, “we finally made the decision, as a parish, to go ahead with the project.”

A few months ago, enough funds were raised that the Diocese of Lafayette gave the go ahead to get started.

“And we’re going to continue to raise money until any remaining debt is paid off,” Breaux says of the $1 million job.
“It’s been a long journey, I guess,” says Billy Guidry, a St. Joseph parishioner and member of the parish council, who credits  Breaux with properly framing the issue. “I think it was good the way that Father put it: ‘We’re not renovating. We’re not remodeling. We’re completing the church.’ So I think that kind of raised a couple of brows and put things in perspective.”

While the perspective was in place, the blueprints for the church were not. The church and the Lafayette Diocese did not have a copy of the blueprints, and neither did Town Construction. “I was told they really only kept residential sketches or drawings. They never kept many commercial buildings,” says Guidry. “So we kept hitting a dead end.”

Until, that is, an issue with the footings of the church columns came up and engineer Ted Habetz, another parishioner, found a couple of blueprints in his office that had “just what we needed to complete the columns, the ceiling and the molding detail,” says Guidry. The blueprints also included close-ups of the light fixtures and the altar.

In order to finish the job, the drop ceiling inside the church will be replaced with a high arching one. The fluorescent tubes will be swapped out for appropriate hanging light fixtures. And the steel beams will become columns.

In the meantime, all three buildings associated with St. Joseph’s have been registered with the Historical Foundation of Louisiana, complete with bronze A. Hays Town plaques, says Guidry, who is also a student of Town’s work.

A couple of generations ago, the work at the church came to a halt in 1960 when the funding ran short.

“I think Hays Town got to a stopping point and said we can stop now and cut the costs,” says Guidry. “I guess he just got to a point and said that if finances are an issue, let’s stop here and we can revisit this at a later date. He did that with a lot of his residential clients as well.”

A priest at St. Joseph’s apparently knew Town and asked him to design the church. The stained glass windows and the altars were salvaged from the previous church some say was taken down by a fire. The church hall went up in the early 1950s: “You can tell it’s a little on the early style of his work,” says Guidry. The church itself was constructed from 1958-60.

“And the last structure I’d feel was more of his recent work,” says Guidry of the living quarters. “That was done in the ’70s.”

And now within a year, A. Hays Town’s project can see the light at the end of a 50-year-long tunnel.

“It’s exciting to be a part of this, you know, 50 years later,” says Guidry, who was baptized at St. Joseph’s. “I guess at my age, with my passion with Hays Town’s work, I just felt like it’s surreal that I’m from a town where he did three of the main structures, so I feel very connected to it.”

“It’s just very fulfilling and satisfying to know that for future generations these people will be so proud,” says Breaux. “That in itself is enough for me. I’ll be long gone and I’ll know that the work I helped bring about here will be enjoyed for generations, and I love that.

There’s more to raising money than asking

Fundraising consultant Andree Gonsoulin has a few ideas.

Andree Gonsoulin, a fundraising consultant, came on board for the St. Joseph Catholic Church in January and stayed around for about three months to help garner the $1 million to finish its ceiling.

Gonsoulin says she organized church ambassadors to go out into the community to raise funds for the work and she showed them how to do it. “I come in and help frame the message and timeline and train the folks who are going to be out there asking directly for the money,” she says. “I helped coordinate their efforts and gave them the materials they’d need and trained them and moved them forward on that process.”

The original fundraising campaign for the church was called God’s Acre, according to Gonsoulin. In the late 1950s, local farmers donated an acre’s worth of profits from their land that year to build the church. Now their offspring are donating time and money to finish it. “And some of those farmers whose fathers were in the original group are now actively working on the campaign as well,” she says. “It’s like this group of people is finishing the project their parents started.”

Such a generational fundraising campaign is unique for Gonsoulin. “I’ve never really seen something like this particular project,” she says. “It’s really neat because they’re calling this the completion campaign because they are literally completing the church.”

Gonsoulin has been involved with fundraising for other churches, including Our Lady Queen of Peace, which burned in 2010 in Lafayette, and Our Lady of Wisdom on the campus of UL Lafayette.

She says a fundraising campaign’s tactics vary with the objective. “It’s usually different. A political campaign is a lot less personal. Obviously, fundraising is a highly personal thing because people are giving toward something they believe in,” says Gonsoulin. “But for the churches, you can tell that the people who are raising the money have the greatest memories of their lives in these buildings — the communions, the weddings, the funerals — those moments they have in those buildings, so they have a very personal feeling toward them and keeping them up, or rebuilding them or finishing them.” — DM

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